Commencement will offer a slightly different look with GMC construction


Tiger Media Network

Fort Hays State University’s spring commencement ceremonies will look slightly different this year with the ongoing construction inside Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The construction, which will add air conditioning to the coliseum, started in December. According to FHSU Facilities Planning Director Dana Cunningham, the goal is for athletics to have use of the court in mid-August. However, due to equipment delivery delays, the cooling system will not run until October. 

Those attending the commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday will see new ductwork, pipe racks and plastic coverings on some of the structural columns, which are being reinforced with stiffening plates. According to Cynthia Cline, the executive administrative specialist to the Provost, the most notable construction evidence is equipment and materials around the building and in the parking lot. These areas will be blocked off with signs.

Frames for the new air handling units sit in the Gross Memorial parking lot.

“(The construction company) has been very gracious about trying to make things the way they were,” she said.

A paragraph about the construction was included in a university press release on April 26, and a Facebook post on the same day included a link to the release. Cline said there may be a need for another post on social media before the ceremonies.

After this year, a cooler coliseum will not only be more comfortable, but it will also allow for potential changes to future commencement ceremonies. Up until now, the university has been restricted to morning ceremonies due to the afternoon and evening heat.

“We definitely want to be able to utilize maybe an afternoon time instead of just doing them both in the mornings,” Cline said. “It’s kind of contingent on the president and how her schedule is.”

Air conditioning will also prevent the maintenance crew from having to leave doors open the night before, which Cline said led to a bird flying inside one year.

Signs that say “Construction in progress. Do not use stairs” at the Gate 2 stairwell.

Outside of commencement, the air-conditioned coliseum will make summer events, such as athletic camps, more comfortable and provide new opportunities.

“If you wanted to have any sort of a special event in [GMC] in the summertime, you could do that,” Cunningham said. “It gives the coliseum a little more summer flexibility.”

The project is funded in part by American Rescue Plan Act money administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce. The project costs $11.3 million, and $5 million of it came from these funds. Cunningham said the money helped with inflation and other budget issues.

“Contractors are so busy that we could not really entertain a lot of interest from many contractors that could do this type of work,” he said. “So that contributed to being over budget, but we’ve ultimately found the resources and were awarded the project. Without the five million dollar funding, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Following commencement, the construction crew will bring large lift machines onto the court to remove old ductwork from the ceiling.